What’s the one thing that makes it easiest for you to eat healthy? For me, it’s having a meal plan. And you probably know by now that I’m all about making things easier. As we talked about in 8 Ways to Make Healthy Behaviors Convenient, the easier we make it to stick with our healthy habits, the more successful we’re going to be.
How Meal Plans Can Help
There are several ways planning our meals can help us:
- They can help us ensure we’re getting a good variety of foods in our diet throughout the week.
- When we plan for the whole week, we can see — at a glance — whether we’re getting all the foods we need to be eating a balanced diet.
- A meal plan can help us avoid decision fatigue. Sometimes choosing healthier options can come down to not having to make a decision about it. When we have to make too many choices during the day, we can experience something called decision fatigue. When you already have your meals planned out, you don’t have to make a decision about what you’re going to eat. You just fix what you have on the plan.
- They can help us know and control what we’re eating. Have you ever looked up the nutritional information for some of your favorite restaurant meals? Were you shocked? When we eat at home, we don’t have to worry about that. We know what goes into our food as we’re cooking it, and we can control our portion sizes very easily.
With these benefits, it seems like a no-brainer to use a meal plan, doesn’t it? The only thing is…. sometimes it can be hard to come up with your plan for the week.
If you’re like me, meal planning might not be your favorite thing to do. I just have a hard time knowing what I might want to eat from one day to the next. The nice thing is that you can be flexible with your plan. If you don’t want something you’ve planned on the day you’ve planned it, it’s simple — just swap with another day.
As we already talked about above, a good meal plan can help us meet our nutritional goals and make sure we have a variety of nutritious foods to choose from. It can also give us some ‘wiggle room’ for those delicious treats we like to enjoy from time to time. Simplifying our meal-planning process can sometimes mean the difference between eating something good for us or calling for take-out.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share some tips for making meal planning easier. It may seem like a little more work at the beginning, but once the preliminary work is done, it’s basically just a matter of plugging meals into the plan.
4 Steps To Easier Meal Planning
1. Make a list of the foods you like and want to include.
List foods you like and will want to include in your meals. It’s helpful to break the list into categories: Protein, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains and Seeds, and Healthy Fats.
This is also where your list of Green, Yellow, and Red-Light foods comes in handy. You’ll want to make sure you’re including lots of foods from your Green-Light list, fewer of those from your Yellow-Light list, and limited amounts from your Red-Light list.
Of course, as tastes change or you discover new foods you like, you can add to the list, and if you want, you can even include specific dishes that use that particular food. If I’m thinking of a certain recipe, I even include which cookbook and page number so I can check the recipe when I make my shopping list.
2. Determine your eating pattern.
Do you have a specific eating plan you want to follow? Do you have a certain number of meals you want to eat each day? This will give you a guideline for how to plan for each day. For example, I try to stick to the Mediterranean Diet style of eating as much as possible. I chose this particular pattern for its emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that are delicious and good for you.
If you’re interested in the Mediterranean Diet, please check out www.oldwayspt.org. They have tons of information, not just about the Mediterranean Diet, but other traditional diets as well, and lots of yummy recipes.
*** One Note — When I use the word diet here, I’m just talking about our general eating patterns, not diets that restrict the foods we eat.
3. Divide your day into the number of eating opportunities you’ve decided on.
These eating opportunities include both regular meals and snacks. For example, if you usually eat 3 meals and 2 snacks, your plan might look something like this:
Your meal plan doesn’t have to be complicated; it just needs to be something that works for you.
4. Now just “plug and play” your foods into your meal plan.
Now all you have to do is plug foods from your Foods I Like list into your meal plan for each day. I try to make sure that I have at least a few meals that are super-easy to prepare in each week’s plan. That way, if I don’t feel like cooking, or want to spend minimal time in the kitchen, I choose those.
You may also want to make sure that your meals are each similarly balanced; ie, each larger meal has the same basic number of servings of protein, veggies, starches and fat, so you have lots of flexibility to switch things around. That way, if you don’t want what you have planned for a particular day, you can just swap it out with something from another day.
A meal plan allows us to plan ahead, stick to a shopping list (which also helps our financial dimension of wellness), and automate our healthy eating habits. As we talked about above, we don’t have to think too much about whether what we’re eating is healthy. Because we planned nutritious meals we know we’re good to go.
Do you need a meal planning template? If so, just fill out the form below and I’ll send the meal plan, along with a weekly shopping list, to you.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves when it comes to healthy eating is to make it easy. Having a meal planning system that works for us helps us do that.
Do you use a meal plan? If so, what tips do you have to make meal planning easier? Please share!